2014 NFL Playoffs: Breaking Down Scenarios for Every Team

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystDecember 17, 2013

2014 NFL Playoffs: Breaking Down Scenarios for Every Team

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    There are only two weeks left in the 2013 NFL season, and that means the push for the playoffs is in high gear.

    So far, four teams have punched their dance cards. The Indianapolis Colts have sewn up the AFC South title, and the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks have all clinched playoff berths.

    That leaves eight spots still up for grabs. Here's a look at the contenders for each of those spots, from the front-runners to the dark horses.

Outside Looking In: AFC

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    There are three teams in the AFC who are still in playoff contention but wouldn't make it if the season ended today.

     

    Miami Dolphins (8-6)

    The Dolphins are still alive in the AFC East, but any combination of a New England Patriots win or Dolphins loss would seal that deal. However, with the Bengals and Ravens set to meet in Week 17 if the Dolphins win their last two games they will make the playoffs as a Wild Card.

     

    San Diego Chargers (7-7)

    San Diego's big win over Denver in Week 15 keeps the Chargers' fading playoff hopes alive, but the Bolts sit a game back of the sixth seed and have head-to-head losses to the Ravens and Dolphins who would need to lose out.

     

    Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8)

    For the Steelers to make the playoffs, the following needs to happen over the last two weeks of the season: two Pittsburgh wins, two Baltimore losses, two Miami losses, one San Diego loss and two wins by the New York Jets. Other than that, though, no problem. 

Outside Looking In: NFC

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    In the NFC, there are a quartet of teams who, as things stand today, would be playing bridesmaid when the playoffs get underway.

     

    Arizona Cardinals (9-5)

    Every two or three years, there's a 10-6 team that's left swinging in the breeze come playoff time. This year the the Redbirds are the leading candidate, sitting one game back of the 49ers and Panthers with a brutal two-game stretch (at Seattle, San Francisco) to close the season.

    However, the Cardinals do hold the tiebreaker over Carolina, so a Panthers loss to New Orleans Sunday would open the door for the Cardinals to leapfrog them with a win against the Seahawks.

     

    Green Bay Packers (7-6-1)

    Detroit's continuing swoon has the Packers back in the thick of things in the NFC North. In fact, if the Packers can take care of the Pittsburgh Steelers this week, then the Packers and Bears will battle on December 29 in a game that will probably decide the NFC North.

     

    Detroit Lions (7-7)

    The Lions had the NFC North neatly handed to them on a plate, and over the past month, they've choked on it. Now, after dropping their third game in four weeks, the Lions need losses by both Green Bay and Chicago (including at least one this week) coupled with two Lions wins to make the postseason.

     

    Dallas Cowboys (7-7)

    Stop laughing. Even after dropping last Sunday's game to Green Bay in heartbreaking fashion and losing their last two, the Dallas Cowboys still control their own destiny. It's simple. Win out (including at home against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17) and the Cowboys will be NFC East champions.

    In fact, a Dallas loss to Washington this week isn't necessarily a killer, provided the Eagles lose in Week 16 as well. 

AFC 6th Seed: Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

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    It wasn't that long ago that the defending Super Bowl champions were written off as toast. Now, after four straight wins, the Baltimore Ravens are right back in the mix.

     

    Can clinch a playoff spot with: The Ravens hold the head-to-head edge over the Dolphins, so a combination of one more Baltimore win coupled with one more Miami loss will get the Ravens back into the playoffs.

     

    Can clinch the AFC North with: If the Ravens beat the Patriots at home in Week 16 and the Cincinnati Bengals on the road in Week 17, they will win the AFC North. They can also win the division with a win over the Bengals if both Baltimore and Cincy lose this week, as the Ravens will have won both head-to-head meetings.

     

    Seeding scenarios: It's possible that if things break just the right way (the Colts and Patriots lose out and the Ravens win the North), Baltimore could vault as high as the second seed or land as low as the sixth.

     

    That Week 17 matchup in Cincy is a big one.

NFC 6th Seed: San Francisco 49ers (10-4)

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    The defending NFC champions are as hot as any team in the NFL right now, winners of four straight games and nine of their past 11.

     

    Can clinch a playoff spot with: If the 49ers win either of their last two games (Atlanta, at Arizona), they're in. A loss by the Cardinals in Seattle this week also gets the 49ers into the postseason.

     

    Can clinch the NFC West with: If the 49ers win their last two games and the Seahawks lose their last two, then the 49ers would claim the West by virtue of a better record within the division.

     

    Seeding scenarios: For the 49ers the next two weeks are essentially about jockeying for position as either the fifth or sixth seed. if the 49ers win out, they can assure themselves the fifth seed, as either the Saints or Panthers are assured of a loss (or tie) when the two play each other this week.

AFC 5th Seed: Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)

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    It's all about streaks with this year's biggest surprise in the NFL. The Kansas City Chiefs started the year with nine wins, followed that with three losses and then reeled off two wins in a row to make the playoffs one year after finishing 2-14.

     

    Can clinch a playoff spot with: By virtue of the Chiefs win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, they are in the playoffs.

     

    Can clinch the AFC West with: The Chiefs share the same 11-3 record as the Denver Broncos, but given Denver's two head-to-head wins, the Chiefs need the Broncos to slip up in order to take the division title.

     

    Seeding scenarios: It's pretty cut-and-dried for the Chiefs. As AFC West champions, the Chiefs would all but certainly earn a first-round bye. As the fifth seed, it's on the road to Cincinnati, Baltimore or Indianapolis.

NFC 5th Seed: Carolina Panthers (10-4)

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    It's a testament to how precarious life in the NFL is that the Carolina Panthers are one win from the NFC South lead and one loss from missing the playoffs altogether.

     

    Can clinch a playoff spot with: The Panthers hold a one-game edge on the Arizona Cardinals, but since the Redbirds have the tiebreaker, it will take at least one Panthers win over the past two weeks combined with an Arizona loss to nail down a wild-card spot (or two Cardinals losses).

     

    Can clinch the NFC South with: If the Panthers win their last two games (including this week at home against the Saints), they will be crowned the NFC South champs.

    However, should the Panthers beat New Orleans but fall at Atlanta in Week 17, it could open the door for the Saints to sneak past them at 11-5 thanks to a better record in the division.

     

    Seeding scenarios: If the Panthers win the division, it's a first-round bye and home field until at least the NFC Championship Game. As a wild card, it's a trip north to face the winner of either the NFC East or NFC North.

AFC 4th Seed: Indianapolis Colts (9-5)

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    The Indianapolis Colts are the only division winner who has already locked things up, and as the only division leader in the AFC who bothered to win last week the Colts may be able to make a late charge to improve their playoff seeding.

     

    Can clinch a playoff spot with: The Colts are the 2013 AFC South champions.

     

    Can clinch the AFC South with: done and done

     

    Seeding scenarios: Here's where things get interesting, especially after last week.

    There's actually a shot that the Colts could move all the way up to the No. 1 seed, but it would take two Indy wins, two Denver Losses, two Kansas City losses and one loss apiece by the Bengals and Patriots.

    It's more likely that the Colts will be fighting for position with the Patriots and Bengals or Ravens. In that case, the Colts need Cincinnati and New England to lose at least one game.

    The Bengals currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Colts, while a loss by the Pats would give New England five losses overall but one more than the Colts in-conference.

    In all likelihood, the Colts will host a game on Wild Card Weekend.

NFC 4th Seed: Chicago Bears (8-6)

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    The Bears haven't won many style points this year, and their defense is atrocious, but with two games left in the season, it's Chicago sitting atop the NFC North.

     

    Can clinch a playoff spot with: If the Bears are getting in, it's as NFC North champs. No wild card in the Windy City, as Chicago can't catch Carolina's seven NFC wins even if everything else breaks the right way.

     

    Can clinch the NFC North with: If both the Packers and the Lions lose this week, the Bears can clinch the division with a win over the Eagles. Even if the Bears lose to Philly, a win over Green Bay in Week 17 would give Chicago the title.

    Unless the Lions win out, that is, as the 9-7 Lions would hold the tiebreaker over the 9-7 Bears.

    Chicago controls their own destiny, but there's no room for error.

     

    Seeding scenarios: It's pretty straightforward. Should the Bears win the North, they'll finish as either the third or fourth seed, hosting a game on Wild Card Weekend.

AFC 3rd Seed: Cincinnati Bengals (9-5)

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    Despite their 30-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday night, the Bengals maintain a slight edge on the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC's third seed, aka "we don't want the AFC West runner-up in the first round of the playoffs."

     

    Can clinch a playoff spot with: The Bengals can lock up at least a wild-card spot by winning one of their last two games, combined with a Miami loss.

     

    Can clinch the AFC North with: If the Ravens fall to the New England Patriots in Week 16 and the Bengals get past the Minnesota Vikings, then the division is theirs.

    Otherwise, the Week 17 matchup between the Ravens and Bengals in Cincinnati will decide the division.

     

    Seeding scenarios: If the Bengals can win their last two games, then a New England loss would bump the Bengals to the second seed and get them a first-round bye. It's also unlikely that the Colts leapfrog Cincy, who holds tiebreakers on both the Colts and Patriots.

    In other words, the Bengals and Ravens may well be headed for two games in a row against one another. 

NFC 3rd Seed: Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Philadelphia Eagles presently sit in first place in the NFC East, or as it's known this year, "The division no one wants to win."

     

    Can clinch a playoff spot with: An NFC East title. It's division winners or bust in the City of Brotherly Love.

     

    Can clinch the NFC East with: If the Cowboys lose to the Washington Redskins this week, then an Eagles victory against the Bears would sew up the NFC East. Otherwise, Week 17's showdown in Dallas will decide the division.

     

    Seeding scenarios: Much of where the Eagles end up will be determined by who comes out of the NFC North. The Eagles hold the tiebreaker over the Detroit Lions, and this week's tilt with the Bears could give the Eagles the edge on Chicago as well. 

    Frankly, the Eagles might be better served with the fourth seed. Right now the smart money says you want no part of the defending NFC champs in the first round.

AFC 2nd Seed: New England Patriots (10-4)

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    The New England Patriots are an uneasy bunch right now. The Pats are still the AFC's second seed, but the team squandered a golden opportunity to take over the top spot with last week's loss in Miami.

     

    Can clinch a playoff spot with: Any New England win gets them the AFC East title. Should New England lose both their remaining games, it's mathematically possible they could miss the playoffs altogether if the Ravens and Dolphins win out while the Bengals go 1-1.

     

    Can clinch the AFC East with: Any combination of a Patriots win and/or a Dolphins loss will give New England their 10th AFC East title in 11 seasons.

     

    Seeding scenarios: The Patriots could find themselves anywhere from the top seed to the fourth seed.

    The Patriots hold the tiebreaker against the Denver Broncos (whom they trail by a game) but do not against the Cincinnati Bengals, who in turn trail the Pats by one.

    A win by the Patriots, combined with a Bengals loss (or tie) and a Colts loss (or tie) would lock up a first-round bye for the Patriots.

    That's the most probable scenario but not for the reason you might think. 

    With the Bengals facing the Ravens and the Colts facing the Chiefs over the next two weeks, the teams behind them are going to be hard-pressed to catch the Pats, who end the season with a very winnable game against the Bills after meeting the Ravens in Week 16.

NFC 2nd Seed: New Orleans Saints

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    For the second time in less than a month, the New Orleans Saints are getting ready for a big matchup with the Carolina Panthers after getting their heads handed to them on the road.

    This time, though, the game is in Charlotte, and the winner will be one game away from claiming the division title and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

     

    Can clinch a playoff spot with: A win in either of their last two games, an Arizona loss or two losses by the San Francisco 49ers would all net the Saints a playoff spot.

     

    Can clinch the NFC South with: If the Saints beat the Panthers, they clinch the division. A loss doesn't doom them, as a Carolina loss in Week 17 coupled with a Saints win would give New Orleans a better record inside the NFC South.

     

    Seeding scenarios: There probably isn't a team for whom the next two weeks is more important from a seeding standpoint than the Saints.

    Win the division and every game—but the NFC title tilt—is in the Big Easy. In fact, it's possible New Orleans could get the top seed if the 49ers miraculously pass the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.

    However, as a wild card, the Saints would miss out on a week of rest and could be forced to play outdoors in January in Philly, Chicago or Green Bay. 

AFC 1st Seed: Denver Broncos

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    The Denver Broncos stumbled last week against the San Diego Chargers, but with a relatively easy slate ahead of them, Denver still has the inside track to the top seed in the AFC.

     

    Can clinch a playoff spot with: The Broncos have already locked up at least a wild-card berth.

     

    Can clinch the AFC West with: The Broncos, who beat the Chiefs (handily) in both head-to-head meetings this year, will clinch the AFC West if they win their last two games, win one combined with a Chiefs loss or if the Chiefs drop their last two.

     

    Seeding scenarios: A loss by the Broncos in one of their last two games could open the door for New England to claim the top seed, but to squander their first-round bye, the Broncos would need to lose their last two, see the Pats win once and have either Cincinnati or Indianapolis win out. 

    Frankly, it's probably moot. The Broncos travel to Houston and Oakland the last two weeks of the season, and in 2013 those teams are a combined 6-22.

NFC 1st Seed: Seattle Seahawks (12-2)

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    The Seattle Seahawks haven't lost a game at home since 2011. That's too bad for the rest of the NFC, because guess who has the top seed in the conference in a choke hold?

     

    Can clinch a playoff spot with: The Seahawks have already made the playoffs.

     

    Can clinch the NFC West with: If Seattle wins either of their last two games (vs. Arizona and St. Louis) or the 49ers lose either of their last two games, then the Seahawks will win the NFC West and secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

     

    Seeding scenarios: If the Seahawks lose out and the 49ers win out, the Niners would win the West by virtue of a better division record, dropping Seattle to the fifth seed.  

    That assumes, of course, that the Seahawks lose two games in a row at home.